In the End, Packers Prove Playoff Worthy

There might not be another final month of the regular season quite like this one for the Packers. With the 49ers up next in the playoffs and little time to celebrate, our Matt Tevsh says December alone is reason to believe this Packers team belongs in the postseason.

8-7-1.

The guess here is that not a single person on the planet had predicted that record for the Green Bay Packers or for the champion of the NFC North.

This was a regular season – for all division teams involved - that seemed destined for anywhere but the postseason. Yet somehow, against the longest of odds, after another stunning comeback Sunday at Chicago, the Packers are bracketed in the NFC draw.

Do they even deserve to be there?

Absolutely.

Despite their mediocre record, no team knows more than the Packers that in this NFL, the finish counts more than the start. Look no further than the 2010 Packers and the 2011 Packers as exhibits of on opposite ends of the spectrum - the underdog that just got in to the playoffs vs. the prohibitive favorite with the bye.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy likes where his team is at.

"I don't know how we could be better prepared for playoff football than what we've been through the past four weeks," said McCarthy on Monday. "I'd take our four-week experience over everything."

The rallying cry for "Team 93" has been one of overcoming adversity.

How could it be anything else?

Next man up. Resiliency. Character. No excuses. Never give up. All the clichés were thrown out down the stretch at one time or another.

But it was all talk, rhetoric, until it made a difference in the standings. While the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears did their part to help out, the Packers waited until the final month of the regular season to make their move matching comeback wins with words.

After a 40-10 thrashing on Thanksgiving in Detroit left the Packers at 5-6-1, the Packers posted three fourth-quarter comeback wins. It could have been a fourth had officials not botched the game clock at the end of the Dec. 22 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Green Bay.

For the longest time, the Packers failed more times than not in close games under McCarthy and with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Buying a comeback victory never seemed in the cards. Then this December happened.

Ten days after the Turkey Day thrashing, the Packers overcame an 11-point halftime (and five-point fourth quarter) deficit with backup quarterback Matt Flynn to beat Atlanta at Lambeau Field, 22-21. Their playoff chances prior to the game were said to be 5.5 percent.

Then came the miracle in Dallas, a franchise record-tying 23-point halftime comeback (down 12 in the fourth quarter) for a 37-36 victory over the Cowboys. The Packers' win probability at halftime of the game was just 4 percent.

A comeback "loss" to the Steelers, coupled with Lions and Bears losses that same day, set up the NFC North title game and Rodgers' return to the lineup after eight weeks on the sideline. Picking up where Flynn left off, Rodgers led the Packers from eight points back in the final quarter to post a signature 33-28 win over the Bears and a most improbable berth in the playoffs.

Four games decided by 14 points. All coming down to one possession. Sometimes coming down to one play. Gut check after gut check after gut check. First time in franchise history with three fourth-quarter comeback wins in December.

"We're a playoff football team. Our identity's changed. It's kind of gone different directions of how we have to go play to win a game," said McCarthy. "This team's embraced it and we know it's going to take the full game to get it done and that's the way we play."

It took the full game and then some to secure what turned out to be the deciding half game in the NFC North standings. The Packers, with Flynn in relief of Scott Tolzien, came back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter on Nov. 24 to force overtime and eventually a tie with the lowly Minnesota Vikings.

Chalk up yet another comeback, of sorts.

8-7-1 might tie for the worst record ever to win the North/Central Division but little of that matters now because they Packers are still playing. They still have a chance.

For Team 93, that might be all it takes.


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